by Rabbi Sholom Avtzon
The Dinover Rov, Reb Tzvi Elimelech Spira, known as the Bnei Yisasscher, would relate the following story by the seder.
My father was known as an outstanding melamed, whose services were vied for by many. An innkeeper in a nearby town heard about his tremendous success with his students and offered him a generous salary if he would tutor his children. The agreement was that my father would go to that town after Pesach and remain there until mid-Elul. He would then come home for the month of Tishrei, and then return there until Rosh chodesh Nissan.
This arrangement worked out satisfactorily for both parties, and on the day my father would leave the inn, the innkeeper would pay him the agreed upon amount and would rehire him for the following six months.
One winter day, my father heard a knock on the door. The innkeeper went to the door as usual, thinking that perhaps this customer needed some help. But to his dismay, the person standing by the door was not a customer; he was a poor person who went from place to place hoping that his Jewish brethren would assist him, in his time of need.
As soon as the innkeeper heard his request, his friendly expression disappeared and he began berating the poor person for thinking that other people who work are obligated to help him. Why, you are many years younger than me, you look healthy and strong. Hire yourself out as a porter or manual worker and you can earn some money in an honest way. No, I will not give you even the smallest coin. Because if people give you handouts, you will remain lazy your entire life and will remain a beggar. No, go get a job and become something!
The innkeepers’ words hurt my father. Here he thought the innkeeper was an ehrliche Jew, who was observant in every mitzvah, but now he sees that he doesn’t believe in the important mitzvah of tzedokah, who knows what else was beneath the surface.
That Friday night, as every Friday night, the innkeeper spent the evening with his family, enjoying the Shabbos meal and asking his children on the material they learned that week. His children knew the parsha with numerous commentaries and explanations extremely well and also were well versed in the other subjects they learned. So the innkeeper turned to the melame and complimented on a job well done.
However, this time, my father didn’t reply with the same enthusiastic response as he normally did, praising the children’s diligence, etc.
Sensing that something is perturbing the melamed, especially as he seemed withdrawn in the meal, the innkeeper decided to question the melamed in private. However, when he brought it up, the melamed just shrugged it off saying everything is good; the children were excellent in their diligence and behavior. Hearing this, the innkeeper was relieved and thought, perhaps I am making something out of nothing.
However, the next day by the Shabbos meal he noticed that something was definitely amiss, so on Motzei Shabbos after the children went to sleep, he asked him straight out, “If everything is good with my children, as you state, so what is bothering you? You seem preoccupied. If you received, a letter from your family that you are needed at home, I understand that sometimes emergencies arise and I will allow you to go home for a few days.”
No, Boruch Hashem my family is in good health, there is no emergency, replied my father.
I am pleased to hear that my children are conducting themselves properly. But if it is not them that are concerning you and it is not something in your family, what is it? I can’t have you tutoring my children, if your thoughts are somewhere else!
My father replied, being that you are so insistent on hearing what is bothering me, I will answer you, it is something I noticed by you this past week. A poor man asked for a donation. Boruch Hashem, Hashem was kind to you and you are more prosperous than many others. I have seen how you are willing to pay extra for many mitzvos, as you are truly mehader in them, so I couldn’t understand why you refused to give the poor person anything. I don’t think, helping one or a few individuals, would affect anyone?
The innkeeper became irritated and replied, first of all it is nothing of your concern how I do my mitzvos and how I give tzedokah. It happens to be I give plenty of tzedokah, but in my opinion it is no mitzvah to give healthy men a handout. As I stated to him, it will much better to force them to get a job and become something one day. Secondly, if it bothered you so much to see him go hungry, why didn’t you go and give him something yourself?!
I truly wanted to, replied my father, however, as you know, you only pay me when I am ready to leave so I wasn’t able to give anything.
Well if that is the case, I will tell you what we will do, said the innkeeper. Every time a poor person comes knocking on my door, I will give him a coin on your behalf. And then before you leave I will deduct it from the amount that I owe you. So tell me, how much should I give for you, a penny, nickel dime, quarter or perhaps a dollar?
Realizing that in all the months that he was there this was the only time that a poor person knocked on the door, my father quickly replied, Yes, that is a wonderful thought, please give each poor person the following amount on my behalf.
The innkeeper was happy, the melamed was back to his regular self and will teach his children with happiness instead of being upset because of something else, while my father was happy that he can fulfill the mitzvah of tzedokah and he forgot about the whole incident.
However, unbeknown to him, things began happening. One day the following week a beggar came knocking on the door and the innkeeper greeted him nicely, gave him a drink and gave him the agreed upon coin.
That evening, the beggar met up with other beggars and discussed their luck. When this one mentioned that the innkeeper gave him a coin and a cup to drink, they all laughed and called him a liar. Don’t you know that it is years that the innkeeper refuses to give anyone even a kopeck and you claim, he gave you a ten piece, you are making it up!
No I am not replied the beggar. It is true what I said. You know what I am willing to make a bet with all of you. Here is all of todays’ collection. Tomorrow I will go back there with two of you; if he is cheap like you say and berates us, you divide my collection amongst you. However, if he treats us with respect and gives each one money, all of you collectively have to give me the amount that you are expecting to gain tomorrow.
Everyone laughed at him saying, it is a deal, you can kiss your money good bye. He gives no one.
The next morning the three beggars made their way to the big inn and to their utter surprise the innkeeper greeted them exactly as the first beggar stated. He gave them some water, a coin and wished them well.
That night, the first beggar received his reward, but the news spread among all of the money collectors, the stingy innkeeper had a change of heart. He is greeting everyone kind and is generous. It was worth giving a small amount of money for that information, we will make it up
The months passed and Rosh Chodesh Nissan arrived. After davenning and learning something with his students, my father, went to the innkeeper to receive his payment.
The innkeeper took out the agreed upon amount, placed it on the table and then said, but we have to calculate how much I advanced on your behalf, as we agreed upon.
Yes, of course replied my father, and he sat down while the innkeeper took out a notebook.
A week after our agreement one person came, the next day three people came, then seven and followed by twelve. The following week every day between fifteen and twenty people came and so on.
Now let us add up all the ten-piece amounts and see how much tzedokah you gave. Saying that he sat next to my father and together they counted day by day totaling it up. At the end not only did the amount take away most of the payment, it even exceeded it and my father owed him some money.
My father was flabbergasted; never did he realize that so many people were coming on a daily basis. But an agreement was an agreement and his word was a word. So my father replied, yes, this calculation is correct and I owe you money, however as you know I don’t have any money with me. So therefore if you will be so kind, you will deduct it from the next payment. Additionally, I can no longer afford to give this amount to everyone, so from now on the amount should be a much smaller coin, as I never realized, how many people came to your door.
Fine said the innkeeper, we will deduct the balance from the next payment. Saying that he returned all the money to his drawer, wished my father a safe trip home and a good yom tov, without giving him even one ruble for all the months work.
My father left the inn and started walking home. He couldn’t understand, how he didn’t realize that this might have happened. How is he going to explain to his wife that he gave away all of his earnings for the past five months to poor people and that he owes some more? The arrangement he had with all the local stores were that they gave my mother on credit, knowing that my father will pay up when he comes home. But now without any money in his pocket, not only would they be extremely upset, but more importantly they won’t extend any credit to him. How is the family going to obtain whatever is needed for the yom tov?
These questions laid heavily on his mind and he had no idea, how to solve it. So instead of coming home, he settled in a beis hamidrash on the outskirts of the city and learned there.
Meanwhile, my mother knew that he normally came home on the 4th or 5th day of Nissan, but now it is the 5th and 6th day of the month and there is no sign or message from him and she was becoming nervous. Did something chas v’sholom happen to him on the way home? She went to the stables of the wagon drivers and asked all of the coachmen, if they happened to have come from that city and did they notice her husband, or did something occur that is delaying his return?
The drivers that went on the road replied there was no heavy rain that made the travelling difficult and no we didn’t see or hear anything about your husband. But we will keep our eyes and ears open, and will try to locate him.
As each additional day passed it become more and more painful for our mother, until one day she tearfully informed us that something chas v’sholom might have happened. Father should have been home at least five days ago and no one saw him or heard about him.
Going to cheder the next morning was not easy, all of us were nervous and scared about Father, we had no idea what to think. One of my close friends noticed that I was not my normal self and asked me quietly if everything is alright, why am I so downcast?
I replied that mother informed us that father should have been home already and she is concerned about his well-being.
Looking at me he said, what do you mean your father is missing and didn’t come back from his job, every night when I go to the beis midrash by my house to daven maariv, I see him sitting there and learning.
I replied, how can that be? My father isn’t home and you are saying he is sitting in your beis hamidrash during the last week. It doesn’t make sense; you must be confusing him with someone else!
No! he replied emphatically, I am positive it is your father, I went over and gave him a sholom Aleichem and he called me by my name. It is definitely so. Your father is there. Come with me immediately after cheder and I will show you so.
So I told my younger brother to inform mother that I am going to look for father as someone believes he knows where he is and I will be coming home later than usual.
After cheder I went with my friend and sure enough there was father sitting and learning in the beis hamidrash without a worry on his mind. Rushing over I hugged him and said, Father, where were you this past week? Mother is so nervous, It is almost Pesach and we didn’t even begin getting ready for yom tov as mother has no money.
Father looked at me and said, you are right. Immediately after maariv, we will go home.
He davened maariv and then put back all the seforim, returning them to their proper place. We then left the beis hamidrash, but for some strange reason, father was walking extremely slow and wasn’t in the mood of conversation.
All of a sudden we heard the galloping of horses and the thunder of a wagon that is going extremely fast. Looking up we saw a wagon driver driving way too fast down the narrow street and father was afraid it might hit us. So he quickly pulled me inside the protection of a doorway and the wagon zoomed by us, missing us by mere inches.
At the end of the street, the driver made a sharp turn and a letter fell out of the wagon. Father picked it up and tried to get the attention of the wagon driver, however, his shouts were not loud enough and the wagon kept on speeding away.
My father put the envelope in his pocket, saying he will have to try to return it to its owner and we continued on the way to our home. Everyone was eagerly waiting by the door and as soon as they saw father, all my siblings ran over and began asking hundreds of questions, Father, why are you so late? What happened? Are you OK? Etc.
But mother stopped them and said, Children, father just came home. Shouldn’t you allow him to put down his bag and eat something before answering everyone’s questions. So father took his bag into his room and after a few minutes came out. Later on he informed us that he opened the envelope to see who it belonged to and while he couldn’t find a name, he realized that the amount of money in the envelope is the exact amount of tzedokah that he gave away. Sitting down at the table, he thanked mother for the food and began asking us about our preparations for Pesach.
Father, we replied, the stores refused to extend any more credit until we paid up the old balance as you would do every year. But this year, you came a week later, so nothing was done yet.
Hearing that, father took out money from his pocket and gave each one some rubles instructing us to go to the various storekeepers and pay up the old balance and also pay for what was needed.
We were so happy that he is ok and could finally prepare for the Yom Tov that we forgot about the fact that father came home a week later then normally and for some strange reason was learning in the distant beis hamidrash on the outskirts of the town, while Mother and all of us were becoming nervous and scared. We will get to that another time.
But the days flew by as all the preparations that normally took almost two weeks were being done in a few days and as long as Father is ok and everything is alright, the matter slipped our mind.
Somehow we managed to get ready and we all sat down by the seder table. It came to open the door for Eliyahu Hanavi and I accompanied Mother to the door. Opening up the door, I was startled as I saw the coachman standing by the door, so I said loudly, Father the coachman came to get back his envelope.
Father replied, Tzvi Elimelech it is alright, just say the words from the Hagaddah that you are supposed to say, close the door and we will continue the haggadah.
Mother sat down and instructed us all to close our hagadahs for a moment. Turning to father she said, enough of all these riddles. I opened the door and didn’t see any coachman or in fact anyone at all, so what was this about a coachman by the door. Then if you did find his package, why did you not return it? What is going on? And being that you are answering those questions, would you be so kind and answer the other important questions, Why were you in that beis hamidrash and not in the house for an entire week?!
Father then told us the entire story of how he gave away all of his earnings plus more. He then said, when he counted the money in the envelope and noticed that it was the exact amount of money he thought that perhaps Hashem was reimbursing him for the tzedokah he gave and decided to borrow that money.
But when our son, announced that the coachman is by the door, he was positive it was Eliyahu Hanavi who gave him the envelope and that Hashem indeed reimbursed him.
So Eliyahu Hanavi appeared to my father in the merit of his tzedokah.
The Bnei Yisachers chassidim would add; Eliyahu hanavi revealed himself to the Rebbe’s father once but to the Rebbe he revealed himself twice.
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